Kenyan Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt tree-planting movement in Africa, has won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. She is the first African woman to win the prize, and the first person to win it for environmental work.
Asked about awarding the Peace Prize to an environmentalist, Nobel committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes answered, "It is clear that with this award, we have expanded the term peace to encompass environmental questions related to our beloved earth." The Nobel Committee praised her "holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women's rights in particular."
The Green Belt Movement organizes poor rural women in Kenya to plant trees, combating deforestation, restoring their main source of fuel for cooking, and stopping soil erosion. Maathai has incorporated advocacy and empowerment for women, eco-tourism, and just economic development into the Green Belt Movement.
Since Maathai started the movement in 1977, over 25 million trees have been planted. Over 30,000 women trained in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping, and other trades that help them earn income while preserving their lands and resources. Communities in Kenya have been motivated and organized to both prevent environmental destruction and restore that which was damaged. And more.
Maathai was beaten and imprisoned during the rule of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi for opposing his destructive environmental policies. She failed in a run for president against Moi in 1997, but after he stepped down, won a 2002 election for MP with 98% of the vote. She is now Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.
To mark the moment,
Mrs Maathai celebrated by planting a Nandi flame tree in her home town of Nyeri, in the shadow of Mount Kenya.
She said she was delighted that the vital role of the environment had been recognised.
"The environment is very important in the aspects of peace because when we destroy our resources and our resources become scarce, we fight over that".
"I am working to make sure we don't only protect the environment, we also improve governance," she added.
WW: What initiatives are you working on?
WM: I wanted to start a national tree-planting day, and I thought that Easter would be a wonderful time. Its a long weekend. Kenya is almost 85 percent Christian. People here are crazy about religion and Jesus and crucifixion and to get the cross somebody has to go into the forest, cut a tree and chop it up. I thought there would be nothing better for the Christians to do that plant a tree and bring back a life, the way Christ came back to life.
A bit more at Lantern Books, publisher of Maathai's The Green Belt Movement - Sharing the Approach and the Experience.